Fundraising getting back on track after recession

By Diego Ruiz

Step Forward, Macalester’s current capital campaign, has somewhat recovered from a steep drop in donations over the last two years-likely just enough to begin the delayed Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center renovation at the beginning of next year.Construction will most likely start on the new central art gallery and music department Jan. 1, said Tommy Bonner, vice president of Advancement and one of the principle people behind the Step Forward campaign.

So far the campaign has raised $128 million towards a $150 million goal. Bonner said he hopes to finish the campaign before the beginning of 2012.

In the last fiscal year (June 2009 – June 2010), the college raised a total of $16.6 million for Step Forward. This was an increase over the $14.7 million Macalester received in the 2009 fiscal year, but still substantially lower than the $18.7 million the college raised in 2008, before the financial markets crashed.

“We’re back at 2007 numbers,” said Bonner.

Fundraising is one of the college’s three main revenue streams. (The others are return from the endowment and tuition and board fees.)

Most of the money donated to Macalester in capital campaigns comes from donors who contribute five, six and seven figure amounts.

They help finance new endowed professorships, scholarships and financial aid awards, and most visibly, new buildings on campus.

“The first years are the beneficiary of the Leonard Center and Markim Hall as a result of the campaign,” said Bonner, referring to two buildings financed with capital from Step Forward. “I firmly believe they will also be the beneficiary of Janet Wallace,” he added.

Although Bonner said that the Board of Trustees would decide whether or not to begin the renovation when they meet on Oct. 1, he was confident that construction would start at the beginning of 2011.

Macalester’s goal is to raise $24 million for phase one of the Janet Wallace renovation, about 60 percent of the total $39 million construction budget. Donors have so far given $16.1 million. That’s $2 million below the previously stated benchmark of $18 million required to begin construction. Bonner said the $18 million was an “internal number” and that construction could still start with less than that.

“We feel comfortable starting at $16 million,” he said. “I don’t think (donors) are going to question starting it with over half raised.”

“Delaying a year would be more detrimental to fundraising than anything else, so I’m cautiously optimistic that the money will be there once they know we’re starting,” Bonner said.

In addition to construction projects, $32 million from Step Forward has already gone to scholarships and financial aid. Bonner said he hopes to raise $12 million more. He said he also hopes to get “one or two” more endowed professorships.

When Step Forward does end, it will mean the beginning of a new capital campaign. Bonner said he was sure that the next wave of fundraising would focus on raising money for renovating the art and theater departments, in order to complete the Janet Wallace renovation.

He also laid out a few possibilities for other fundraising goals in the future.

“Is the other part of it residence halls because we’re kind of busting at the seams?” Bonner said. “Is it a new bookstore? We’ll have that debate about what the priorities are.”

But thinking about that now is beside the point for Bonner.

“I compare it to perhaps a sports team worrying about the game after this game,” he said. “We need to worry about winning this game, then we’ll worry about the next one.